What does it sound like?:
The first thing that strikes you about this new 2CD live album from Colosseum, professionally recorded across several shows in early 1971, is how sensational it sounds. Vibrant, clear, sparkling, dynamic and alive. Mixing/mastering engineer Eroc (one Joachim Ehrig, a pro recording artist in bands and solo, as Eroc, from the 70s to the 90s, now a mastering maestro) has done an astounding job!
It’s a blistering performance, too. For those who don’t know much about Colosseum, their sound is – to my mind – part of a peculiarly British sort of jazz/rock blend, involving the likes of brass, Hammond and vibraphones, that thrived briefly for roughly a year either side of 1970. It’s a sound world that had its origins in the Graham Bond Organisation of the middle 60s – in which Colosseum mainstays Jon Hiseman (drums) and Dick Heckstall-Smith (saxes) both played – was influenced by the absurdist songwriting of Pete Brown with Jack Bruce in Cream, and that was developed by Jack Bruce’s ‘Songs for a Tailor’ (1969) album arrangements (again, featuring both Hiseman and DHS) and his 1971 touring band (which reunited him with Bond), by the Keef Hartley Band (a briefly flourishing drummer-led band with horn section), by Neil Ardley’s New Jazz Orchestra (which collaborated with Colosseum on some live shows), by the first two albums by jazz/rock arranger Michael Gibbs (1970-71) and his live band, and by one or two other acts of that brief period. It wasn’t ‘jazz-rock’ as represented by the likes of Nucleus in Britain or the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the US; rather, it was a kind of progressive rock music with jazz players and influences involved and, in Hartley and Colosseum’s cases, based more around songs than instrumentals.
If this new 2CD is so sensational, one might ask why it has languished so long in the late Colosseum bandleader Jon Hiseman’s archive, although really that question refers specifically to Disc 1, recorded live at a university in Canterbury on 12 February 1971. Let me explain…
During a British tour in early 1971, Colosseum, with doubtful enthusiasm from their management and label, set about recording shows with the Granada mobile, with the intention of capturing their onstage magic, and a clutch of hitherto unrecorded numbers, on a live album (Jon feeling their three studio albums to that point had lacked something of this). In Jon’s 2010 autobiography ‘Playing the Band’, it is explained that while nobody could by then recall how many shows had been recorded, the first was at Canterbury, the third was at Manchester University on 13 March, there was another at Manchester University on 18 March and the final recording was made at the Big Apple in Brighton on 27 March. Somewhere in between, there had also been a recording made at Bristol. The second show in Manchester – a free gig – was put on because the band had felt the first one was below par, with a ‘huge row’ in the dressing room after, and they were desperate to try and get something good on tape.
After the Brighton show, their manager, Gerry Bron, pulled the plug on more live recordings and Jon became despondent. However, they all listened again to the first Manchester show at Lansdowne Studios and realised it was much better than they’d reckoned at the time. Thus, five tracks from Manchester on March 13, and one from Bristol (date not given, track not identified) – according to Jon in his book, the only one from a show other than Manchester that they thought was any good – became the June 1971 double LP ‘Colosseum Live’. It would be their last album, bar a compilation of oddities, until reforming in 1994.
In Jon’s book, bar a passing mention, there is no discussion of the Canterbury show. The presumption is that, for whatever reason, it was simply not considered for release and everyone moved on to the next gig recording (and the next…).
Emails with Eroc reveal that the original multi-track recording from Canterbury was rather weak and needed a lot of work. Clearly, his results with today’s technology would not have been possible in 1971. Indeed, the eventual ‘Colosseum Live’ 2LP that was mixed back in the day, from the first Manchester show, was often thought to be an imperfect, rather gritty presentation, albeit capturing the energy Jon was after (the 2016 Esoteric Records expanded edition of the album, remastered by Ben Wiseman, significantly enhanced the sound). So, one presumes that technical issues rather than any questions about the performance were why the Canterbury show was never considered for release in 1971, and nor for a disc’s worth of further drawings from the well of these 1971 tapes that appeared in 2009 (more of which below).
So, what’s on the new album? Well, in different order, Disc 1 comprises Canterbury versions of five of the six (Manchester) numbers on the 1971 LP – Mike Gibbs’ ‘Tanglewood ‘63’, Jack Bruce’s ‘Rope Ladder to the Moon’, Graham Bond’s ‘Walking in the Park’ and band originals ‘Skellington’ and ‘Lost Angeles’. The 1971 LP’s sixth number* was ‘Stormy Monday’ – famously, an entirely spontaneous encore version (after that dressing room contretemps) of the classic T-Bone Walker blues. It was immediately added to the Colosseum repertoire – but, of course, it had been absent at Canterbury. The sixth number on the Canterbury disc of the new 2CD set is a barnstorming 15-minute ‘The Machine Demands a Sacrifice’ (incorporating Jon’s ‘Time Machine’ drum solo).
(* Note: ‘I Can’t Live Without You’, recorded at the first Manchester show, was added as a seventh track to all CD versions of ‘Colosseum Live’ from 1992–2004; indeed, a 1990 Japanese CD edition of the album remains the only one to NOT feature this extra.)
Disc 2 of the new 2CD ‘Live ‘71’ comprises five numbers over its 73 minutes (Colosseum specialising in rather long items) that have been released before in two contexts: firstly, as a live disc of previously-unreleased tracks in the 2009 4CD Colosseum box set ‘Morituri Te Salutant’, presumably mixed by Jon Hiseman and certainly mastered by Peter Reynolds; secondly, as the second disc in Esoteric’s 2016 2CD edition of ‘Colosseum Live’, mastered by Ben Wiseman. These are: ‘Rope Ladder’ and ‘Skellington’ from Brighton; ‘I Can’t Live Without You / Time Machine / The Machine Demands a Sacrifice’ from the first Manchester show (the ‘I Can’t Live’ section being the bit added to those 1992-2004 single CD editions of the original live album, mentioned earlier); ‘The Valentyne Suite’ from the second Manchester show; and ‘Stormy Monday’ from Bristol.
Is Eroc’s mastering of the items on this disc better than the previous two outings? I believe it is. Others with more time can do a more comprehensive A/B, but from a few minutes each of two tracks compared between the Esoteric release and the Repertoire one, it’s clear that there is more warmth and depth in Eroc’s mastering without sacrificing any of the presence; Wiseman’s mastering on the Esoteric release is good, but chooses to emphasise the top end, with a slight harshness (albeit plenty of punch). At the very least, Eroc brings something fresh to the tracks on this disc.
It is Disc 1, however, the 74 minutes of magic from Canterbury, that make this release essential for anyone interested in British progressive rock. To reiterate: the performance is great and the mixing and mastering are sensational. In short, a deftly covered Chris Farlowe fluffed entry into one track aside, it’s better in my view than the released-at-the-time ‘Colosseum Live’, which is itself a classic of the era.
‘Colosseum Live ‘71’ is one of five (!) Colosseum live albums that Repertoire has just released – the others being a ‘best of the bootlegs’, from quality amateur recordings made between 1969–71 at Boston, Montreux, Turku and Rome, and newly mastered (also by Eroc). The first three of these are probably of most interest to fans, in featuring vocalist Chris Farlowe’s predecessors James Litherland and Dave Clempson along with a diversity of material. The Rome 1971 set, with Chris, comprises four numbers familiar from the pro-recorded Canterbury set. Seventies ‘Melody Maker’ personality and uber Colosseum fan Chris Welch contributes notes to all of these releases.
If I’ve mentioned Eroc a few times, it’s partly to put right an administrative error: in contrast to the revamped bootleg albums, he is not mentioned at all in the ‘Live ‘71’ booklet, where his work was many times more demanding. (A more minor error in the ‘Live ‘71’ package miscredits the Disc 2 ‘Stormy Monday’ as being from Manchester rather than Bristol.)
What does it all *mean*?
That Colosseum fans need to fetch their wallets.
Goes well with…
Whisky, air drums, Edward Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’.
Might suit people who like…
Progressive rock, a bit of history, exciting organic musical interplay from the 1970s with pristine sound